Lately I’ve been thinking and praying a lot about the brokenness and weakness and seeming fragility of the Church. I left a comment on the blog Stand Firm yesterday which sums up some of my frustration and grief over the Church’s failure on this side of Heaven to be the radiant Bride, pure and victorious, which Christ died to redeem for Himself. Here’s part of what I wrote:
I’ve been mostly off the blogs in recent weeks and very much hesitating to jump into this discussion [about the AMiA break from the Province of Rwanda], but I was struck by [a previous commenter's] heart cry:
I know it sounds trite and simplistic, but I only want the church Jesus is building. Can someone please tell me where it might be today?
It echos a cry raised in Africa as well in circumstances and a context about as far removed from the Anglican Communion, TEC and AMiA messes as you can get.
The context I’m thinking of a 1st generation church in what has been an unreached people group, where the nascent “church” is very much a network of local cell groups, underground, about as close to the Pauline 1st century context as it’s probably possible to find today. There is much to rejoice in. Twenty-five years ago there were no known believers in this people group. So the fact that there are believers and a nascent church is a wonderful miracle. And yet at times it’s tempting to despair at the pride and sin and immaturity and divisions in the lives of these new believers and their leaders. Our cry is for a pure, spotless, radiant church that reflects the fullness and perfect measure of Jesus, where believers speak the truth in love, where they serve out of love for God, not for personal gain, etc. etc. We see so little maturity and so little transformation “from glory into glory.”
This morning, I read Psalm 74 as part of my devotional reading, and I was struck by how it could be used as a cry for the Church, a cry for God’s rescue & care and deliverance for His people from the enemies that seek to ruin Her and make Her an object of scorn and mockery instead of a display of His glory and splendor.
These verses particularly resonated with me and I poured them out to the Lord in prayer as a cry for the Church – the Church and believers in the nascent church described above, the AMiA, ACNA, TEC and the Anglican Communion – and also as a prayer for my own life and heart, as one of the sinful broken people who is part of the Church Christ died for.
Ps 74:2-3, 18-19, 22a (NIV)
Remember the people you purchased of old, the tribe of your inheritance, whom you redeemed– Mount Zion, where you dwelt. Turn your steps toward these everlasting ruins,all this destruction the enemy has brought on the sanctuary.
Remember how the enemy has mocked you, O LORD, how foolish people have reviled your name. Do not hand over the life of your dove to wild beasts; do not forget the lives of your afflicted people forever.
Rise up, O God, and defend your cause …
“Turn Your steps toward these everlasting ruins.” Yes, the Church oftentimes seems to be very aptly described as everlasting ruins, in need of God’s restoration, rebuilding, renewing. O Lord come near. Defend Your cause, do not forsake us!
Psalm 74 reminds us of the Lord’s power and sovereignty, that nothing is impossible for Him, giving us hope to trust that He can (and WILL) build, keep, protect, defend, restore and redeem His Church, His people:
But you, O God, are my king from of old; you bring salvation upon the earth. It was you who split open the sea by your power; … It was you who opened up springs and streams; you dried up the ever flowing rivers. The day is yours, and yours also the night; … It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth…
The rest of my comment at Stand Firm yesterday tried to focus on our Hope in Christ and His promises:
And yet if we believe God’s promises we WILL see it [that transformation from glory into glory].
I keep coming back to over and over again the wonderful truth and promise in Eph 3:10-11
His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
God’s purposes never fail, they are ALWAYS perfectly fulfilled, and God has willed and designed through this awful fragile fallible sin-ridden Body called the Church to display His wisdom and greatness and glory to the powers of hell. He will have the victory! He will complete the work He has begun in His people.
One of my hopes and prayers in this AMiA mess, thus, is that God would somehow get greater glory. As the utter weakness of all church structures and leaders, and the ugliness of sin is once again visibly on display for all to see, may God shine forth out of these cracked clay pots and astound the world at the beauty He is able to bring forth out of what looks to be an unredeemable mess. He is the God of redemption, He Himself is our redeemer.
Come Lord Jesus. May our redemption not only be a confession of words, but a reality demonstrated in transformed lives.
So Yes Lord, we cry “turn Your steps toward these everlasting ruins!” May they, may we, may I be a display for Your glory, built on the foundation of Christ, exalting Him, even in our weakness.
By the way, for those who want to reflect further on God’s eternal purpose for the Church and the passage I’ve quoted above from Eph. 3, I highly recommend listening to John Piper’s exegesis of Ephesians 3 from the Lausanne Conference in South Africa last year, which I had the awesome joy and privilege of attending. That exegesis, along with the amazing experience of being gathered together and worshipping with 4000+ other believers from virtually all the countries of the world did so much to expand my vision for the Church and to help me catch a glimpse of its beauty, stirring up my passion to pray for the fulfillment of God’s promises to complete His work and fulfill His purposes in us.
The links to John Piper’s talk (broken into two videos) are here:
A blessed Advent to all.